In their classic soul ballad, the Persuaders persuaded pop fans that "there's a thin line between love and hate." In their fine cover of that classic soul ballad, Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders pretended to agree. But the truth of the matter is that there's a wide gulf between love and hate in the world of rock and roll.
Love gets you favors, conversations, kisses, maybe a free meal now and again. Hate gets you a swift kick in the ass from the steel-toed boot of disrespect. That's why rock critics, even highly exercised critics, try to buffer their complaints with facts and analyses. Critics may long for the freedom to write a review like the famous two-word dismissal of Spi¬nal Tap's Shark Sandwich LP: "Shit sandwich." But even when we hate a band -- hate it worse than the Hatfields hated the McCoys, worse than Seinfeld hates Newman -- professional standards demand that we not fire at random.
Maybe that's why the Internet's rock hate pages are such a find.
To those in the know, Internet buzzwords ("interactivity" and "push technology" and "digital community") do little to conceal the fact that most online communication takes the form of mudslinging. Much of that mud is slung, of course, at celebrities. Politicians, actors, athletes -- they all get theirs in newsgroups and discussion forums. But the most zealous forms of Net malice, like the most zealous forms of praise, are reserved for pop stars.
Who tops the hate parade? Answering that question is as easy as answering the question "What British, all-female, singing/dancing quintet has earned the derision of critics from the moment it came into being right up until this fall, when its members were booed off the stage at a Spanish awards show?" There are at least two dozen anti-Spice Girl pages on the Net, including the subtly antagonistic Death to the Spice Girls (www.vianet.net.au/~jee). Why so much opposition?
Because fans think -- well, all right, they know -- that the Spice Girls are talentless hacks assembled by a manager for the sole purpose of moving units. They're even more soulless than New Kids on the Block, who were even more soulless than the Monkees. Don't agree? Check out the Horrible Truth About the Spice Girls (www.cybercomm.nl/~sanderh/spice2.htm), which provides indisputable evidence that the Spice empire is "a very sneaky conspiracy plotted to undermine the sanity of normal people."
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The most creative hate page is the Anti-Spice Fan Fiction Archive (www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Club/6620), which collects Spice-hating literary parodies of Dr. Seuss and "The Night Before Christmas" ("The moon on the fake breast of Geri the Slut/Was uglier than my grandfather's butt/So I knew I was right, I had made the right call/But soon those Spice Whores, they all must fall").
But even the Spice Girls know that parodic doggerel is the last refuge of a scoundrel. If you really want to get your catharsis working, head over to Slap a Spice Girl (www.urban75.com/Punch/spicebelt.html), a Shockwave game that lets you Ike Turner the five perky popettes into submission. The more you go medieval on the chosen Spice Girl, the more bloodied and bowed she becomes. But be careful: Spice girls fight back. If you could play a game about hitting women without letting its covert authorization of misogynistic violence seep into your subconscious (note to O.J.: You can't), Slap a Spice Girl would provide you with hours of fun.
On the continuum of bloodthirsty dictators, Hitler is more hated than Stalin, and Stalin more hated than Pol Pot. In the world of peppy, pap-and-pablum pop stars, the Spice Girls are Hitler.
Stalin, though, comes creeping in the form of three adorable all-American teens. "If Hanson is not the closest thing we have to a biological weapon," said President Clinton last month, "then I didn't not ask Paula Jones to refrain from not performing oral sex on me on that fateful day when I either was or was not in her presence." Or something.
The teenyboppers with the flaxen hair and the hex on America's youth are about as beloved online as Bill Gates. Anti-Hanson pages like Things That Go Bop in the Night(www.angelfire.com/ak/strelane/bopni.html) have what you'd expect -- parodies of "MMMBop," gentle jabs at the brothers' strong family life, outlandish rumors that attempt to discredit the trio ("Taylor is an alien who has been sent to Earth to EAT OUR BRAINS!").
What you might not expect is that many Hanson pages go in for something quite a bit worse than immoderate music criticism -- namely, a sort of modified gay-baiting that equates the brothers' pretty-boy looks with homosexuality and then equates homosexuality with unacceptable, immoral behavior that deserves to be wiped from the planet like any other plague. Kill the Queers (www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Palladium/8152/killhanson.htm) is typical of this species, with crude graphics and even cruder language ("Half of the globe is infested with pitiful teeny morons who worship the three whiny-no-heiny pansies," including "Taylor the PMS-ing Harpy," "Zac the Overgrown Tuna-Smelling Rat," and "Isaac the Mutated Monster Goat"). So rampant is this trend that a perfectly respectable hate page like Humans Against Hanson (www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Stage/9746) is forced to carry a disclaimer that it is "nonviolent and nonhomophobic." Just remember: First they come for Hanson, then they come for you.
The Spice Girls and Hanson aren't the only acts to have earned online antipathy. Coming in a distant third, but still generating enough hate to light a small bonfire of his compact discs, is Fort Lauderdale-bred shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. Though Manson has his defenders -- especially after the religious right selected him as a whipping boy -- not everyone is charmed by the bargain-basement G.G. Allin. One self-identified heavy metal fan has created a page called Marilyn Manson Is a Tool (members.aol.com/klinefeltr/manson. html). The site opens with a heartfelt statement of purpose: "I've kept quiet for long enough. For the past few years I've watched a person with even less music talent than John Tesh rise to popularity. This piece of shit refers to himself as the Reverend Marilyn Manson and the sight of his face makes me vomit. I've constructed this site as a haven to the thinking individuals of this planet who can see Manson as he really is." Edmund Wilson would be proud.
And speaking of new-age pariah John Tesh, America's favorite former Entertainment Tonight anchor is the subject of an interactive page (www.members.global2000.net/ dragon/tesh.html) that lets visitors submit their own observations ("Because everybody in the world agrees that John Tesh is an asshole, maybe it will help bring unity").
British Nirvana emulator Bush and British Beatles emulator Oasis also catch their share of electronic flak. But compared to the tsunamis of anathemas that rubble the villages of Spice and Hanson, opposition to Manson, Bush, and Oasis is limited to the usual carping about image-making, money-grubbing, and mediocre songcraft. Ho-hum.
There's even a stratum beneath this uninspired dislike -- the out-of-date potshots taken at lame-duck suck-rockers like Hootie and the Blowfish (At A Very Hootie Christmas, the page creator details his Yuletide wish for "the destruction of the musical menace known as Hootie and the Blowfish") and Alanis Morrisette (Attack Alanis offers a low-concept version of Slap a Spice Girl that loads a series of pictures of an increasingly bloodied Alanis).
While Spice-hate and Hanson-hate are sophisticated, complex social phenomena that display admirable levels of energy and creativity, the sad-sack retaliation against Morrisette and Hootie just makes you pity the page designers and like the singers more. Isn't that ironic?
Far more interesting than these predictable anti-Alanis broadsides are the pages that set their sites on revered rock acts. The Beatles, for example, are the subject of the disrespectful, disreputable, and thoroughly dyspeptic Help! The Beatles Suck (www.he.net/ ~exclsior/beatles/index.html), which dedicates itself to debunking the legend of "the most overrated band in the history of rock and roll."
In addition to an essay that takes the Fab Four to task for "suit-and-tie dopey pop" and "high-concept indulgence," the page contains an inversion of the most intriguing debate in all Beatledom: Who was the least talented Beatle? Not Lennon: "At least he had enough respect to get himself killed, so we don't have to worry about any more shit coming from this one." Not Harrison: "That 'Got My Mind Set on You' bit a few years back almost had George beat out Paul on the list. One or two more of those and he'll definitely take the title." Not even recent classical music failure McCartney: "Paul and Linda's 'I know what's best so I'm not going to serve meat at my concert' shit definitely brings them up to second place. They can both kiss my ass. I hope Ted Nugent hunts them down and mounts them on his wall." No, moptop mockers -- the least talented Beatle is ol' gherkin-nose himself: "How the hell did this guy get the job? Were the other three so fucked up at the time that Ringo actually sounded good to them? What's the difference between Ringo and a stopped watch? The watch is actually on time twice a day." Visit this page if you think that the group's 1970 breakup was eight years too late.
And finally, there's the charming "ate my balls" phenomenon, a Net-specific brand of humor. Ate-my-balls jokes are crude forms of bricolage, pages on which Web designers take a picture of a celebrity and doctor it so that the resulting image catches that star eating testicles -- or at the very least, thinking about it. The genesis of the genre was Mr. T Ate My Balls, a 1995 page with a comic book image of the A-Team star and a caption in which the mohawked crimefighter orders a punk to "Gimme your balls, fool." Since that page went up -- it's still online, at www. cen.uiuc.edu/~nkpatel/mr.t/index.html -- ate-my-balls humor has, um, exploded across the Net. It's something of a time-honored (or at least time-tolerated) Web tradition, half tribute and half insult, and the ate-my-balls ranks have swelled (no pun intended) to include in their huge satirical scrotums (again, no pun intended) Michael Jordan, Barney, Boba Fett, Beavis and Butt-head, Ellen DeGeneres, Superman, Snoopy, Shaquille O'Neal, Homer Simpson, Howard Stern, Salma Hayek, Ronald Reagan, Scooby Doo, Woody Allen, Timothy McVeigh, and even disgraced nanny Louise Woodward ("There's no doubt. She's guilty ... of eating my balls!").
Variations include "Dr. Jack Kevorkian Euthanized My Balls" and "O.J. Simpson Murdered My Balls." What does this have to do with pop stars? Nothing, really, except that dozens of them seem to be wolfing down testicles as well -- not only the usual suspects (Vanilla Ice, New Kids on the Block, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Peter Cetera, Bush) but some first-time offenders (AC/DC, R.E.M., Jane's Addiction) and some truly surprising culprits (Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry? What would he want with your balls?).
For your amusement and protection, a lineup of all the ball-eaters in the world is posted at www.mrev.net/mrzebra/ate-my-balls.
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Meanwhile, back in the non-ball-gobbling world, hate pages continue to pop up. (Because of the temperamental nature of the online medium, some of the Websites cited in this article may be down temporarily -- for repairs, for revisions, or as a result of technical breakdowns. Don't let a little Net snafu get between you and perfectly realized hate. Keep trying.) Today, it's Radiohead (gene.wins. uva.nl/~vblock). Tomorrow, Pantera (www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/6731). Or perhaps even an entire genre like country music (www.geocities. com/Area51/5920/country.html) or rave music (www.kiss.uni-lj.si/~k4fe0104/ravehate/index.html). To keep track of all the new scorn and derision -- what is the rate of hate? swift -- be sure to visit hubsites like Motown Junk (www.geocities.com/ SunsetStrip/Alley/7866/), which maintains a list of the ten worst tunes of all time.
And then there's always Anti-Music, the Web Hate Ring (members.tripod.com/ ~Tchort79/ring.html), a site that links all the anti-band and anti-song pages online and will even send you to a randomly selected site. Is anyone immune?
Well, one band seems to be. Primus, the alternative trio led by bassist extraordinaire Les Claypool, has long promoted itself with the slogan "Primus Sucks," and there's even an official Website that incorporates the sentiment into its URL (www.primussucks. com). Once you've spent time at the hate pages, though, the Primus page, with its promise of derision and delivery of adulation, can seem like a ripoff.
Don't you hate it when hate is nothing more than respect in disguise?